Georgia isn’t doing enough to protect people with developmental disabilities from neglect while in state care or to provide housing to people with mental illness, according to a report released this week.
The report is all about Georgia’s compliance with an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice intended to improve the services offered in non-institutional settings to people with certain kinds of disabilities.
“There remain numerous specific obligations in the agreements that have not been fulfilled, as required, for a recommended finding of substantial compliance,” Elizabeth Jones, the independent reviewer tasked with tracking the state’s progress, wrote.
The report says individuals with developmental disabilities are dying while in state care for preventable reasons, often because of “confirmed neglect” by staff caring for those individuals.
It also says the state isn’t able to review those cases and implement corrective action plans quickly enough, which puts people at risk.
“These deaths reveal that the system is too often unable to meet the needs of people with heightened support requirements,” Jones wrote.
The report finds other problems, such as the state’s inability to quickly respond to people with developmental disabilities in crisis situations, a general lack of providers to offer community services, and an inconsistent and conflicting data.
When it comes to people with mental illness, the report says the state’s not meeting its obligation to provide them with supportive housing.
“Regrettably, the State’s performance in [this] area appears to be slipping, rather than moving forward as expected,” Jones wrote. “This is a dispiriting finding.”
Advocates say the report is troubling, but highlights known issues with the state’s ability to provide community services to people with disabilities.
“I don’t think anything in the report is a surprise to anyone in the state or advocates: it just continues to mirror what the prior reports have said in greater detail,” said Devon Orland with the Georgia Advocacy Office.
She says the state has made substantial gains since 2010, when it settled a lawsuit with the federal government about the services it offers people with mental illness and developmental or intellectual disabilities.
In that settlement, Georgia agreed to offer services in community settings–not just in state hospitals. The idea was to allow for “full integration” in daily life for people who get those state services.
Earlier this year, state officials asked for federal oversight of that agreement to end.
“It would be a terrible loss for Georgia to be without the oversight of this settlement, and it is of tremendous use to have the independent reporter reviewing the state of our compliance,” Kate Brady, with the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities, said.
She said states that see the Department of Justice as partners, not adversaries, have had the most success in serving people with disabilities.
The report does note that state and federal officials have “agreed that they will continue to work together collaboratively going forward to address any outstanding issues.”
And the head of Georgia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities says she’s focused on making the state’s services better.
“I am frustrated by the conclusions reached by the independent reviewer,” DBHDD Commissioner Judy Fitzgerald, wrote.
“DBHDD remains committed to improving the lives of Georgians with mental illnesses and intellectual and developmental disabilities. We do this because it is the right thing to do, with or without federal oversight or monitoring by an independent reviewer.”